In order to investigate the layers and composition of clouds and tiny airborne particles like dust, smoke and other atmospheric aerosols, NASA has developed an instrument called the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS. The instrument is expected to reach the orbit with a satellite launch in late December.
Aerosols are both natural and man-made, and include windblown desert dust, sea salt, smoke from fires, sulfurous particles from volcanic eruptions, and particles from fossil fuel combustion.
Currently, scientists get a broad picture of clouds and air quality conditions in the atmosphere and generate air quality forecasts by combining satellite, aircraft, and ground-based data with sophisticated computer models. However, most datasets do not provide information about the layered structure of clouds and aerosols.
CATS will provide data about aerosols at different levels of the atmosphere. The data are expected to improve scientists’ ability to track different cloud and aerosol types throughout the atmosphere.
These datasets will be used to improve strategic and hazard-warning capabilities of events in near real-time, such as tracking plumes from dust storms, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires. The information could also feed into climate models to help understand the effects of clouds and aerosols on Earth’s energy balance.
Alongwith the study of climate changes, the device will also allow them to investigate air quality and how atmospheric particles affect daily life on Earth. This ranges from volcanic eruptions, dust storms, pollution levels and wildfire outbreak.
By infusing CATS data directly into aerosol models, data from CATS can make a difference in tracking and responding to impacts of natural activity in the future and in taking prevention measures.
It is unclear if the launch will affect the natural aerosols market in any way which are used for commercial purposes and differ in their composition.